Mike and I arrived at the Casa de Ciclistas in La Paz after a hairy entrance through the outskirt town of El Alto and a seamless coast down the “Autopista” (freeway) to find our friends Billy, Simon and Olivia who we met in Cusco, Dave from the UK and Kurt from the States. As one does we start comparing stories and discussing plans for our time in La Paz.
Most tourists book through an agency to bike the popular “world’s most dangerous road” aka “The Death Road” or the “Camino de Muerte” down the ~64 km dirt road dropping from 4,650 m to 1,500 m unfortunately a few tour operators offer poorly maintained bikes and ill equipt guides making those last two factors more of a reason to call it the death road than anything else…to us it’s another dirt road, surely it can’t compare to the “Trampolin de Muerte” or the roads the traveled down in northern Peru near Chachapoyas. Side note: There are a few great tour operators like Gravity Assisted Mountain Biking that have great gear and offer a safe tour.
That’s when Kurt (Bike Grease and Coffee) piped up that he had heard of a trail on the other side of the valley called the El Choro trek that was supposed to be “bikeable”. Typically hiked in 3 days and touted as one of the best Hikes in Bolivia. The trail starts in La Cumbre, the highest point at 4,875 m in the high Andes and goes into the Parque Nacional Cotapata, finishing at the village of Chairo at 1,315 m in the jungle. The trail descends through a variety of climates for a total of 4,193 m over 50 km’s with a total ascent of 632 m with a mixture of double track, Incan road, single track, suspension bridges and a few hike-and-bike sections.
We didn’t need an excuse to hit a trail instead of riding the road so we were all in. The next day Cristian (our gracious host at the La Paz Casa de Ciclistas) drove Kurt, Gabriel (Cristian’s cousin), Mike and myself up to the trail head, high in the Andes where we’d be bombing down an old Incan road.
Getting ready for El Choro at the top (L to R) Gabriel, Kurt, Mike, Karen and Cristian.
Mike and Kurt getting the bikes.
The remnants of the old Incan stone work under our tires.
A few flats along the way.
There were a series of stunning suspension bridges over raging rivers throughout the trip.
You know you are hitting the jungle when you see passion flowers growing wild.
Overall the trail was stunning and changed dramatically over a short time offering some rewarding views. I personally was a little mixed on the trail. I had hoped for a lot more single track, but should have read the fine print a little more when the trail description actually stated Pre-Colombian trail (read Incan road paved with stones).
The beginning 10 km’s were phenomenal for cycling as were the last 5-10 km’s but there was a lot more hike-a-bike sections in the middle than what we had expected which included some steep sections and the typical Incan stairs. There’s one section, before Bella Vista that is referred to as “Cuesta del Diablo” which translates to the Devil’s uphill slope. The just over 600 m in elevation gain throughout the trail equated to an approximate 5-6 hours of hiking.
We put in a long day, we had a late start, around 9 am, and didn’t get off the trail until 9:30 pm (2.5 hours after dark) with headlights blazing for the last part. Over the 12.5 hour day we had a few mechanicals, there were some very slippery sections as it had rained and more hike-a-bike sections than we had anticipated meaning there were sections that we were hiking our bike up and also down hiking the bikes due to really steep descents and sections where the Incan stone work was too slick to ride over. We also biked this in the rainy season and suspect conditions would be more favorable in the dry season.
A ridged touring bike with semi-slick tires is not the bike you’d want to take on this trail. If you are touring with a bike set-up for single track prefect, otherwise it’s worth renting a full suspension from one of the operators in La Paz and taking a light pack. Ideally one would have a well equipt bike that can take a beating that this trail offers, a good mountain or all mountain bike would be ideal and Kurt had absolutely no problems with his fat bike which allowed him to cycle a lot more of the trail than what Mike and I could manage.
You can read Kurt’s account of the El Choro trail here.
Also ideally this trail would be better split up into an over night carrying minimal camping gear to spend the night at one of the many camp sites along the way or plan for one very long day with an early start. We managed to find a place to sleep in the end town of Chairo which consisted of a straw mattress on the floor of a pool room with a few blankets for 10 BOL ($1.60/person) but there was nothing for lodging along the trail (i.e. without having your own camping gear) as our map suggested.
El Choro Detailed Information:
GPS Track (open with GPX program or save to desktop)